Social welfare system in Ireland
The social welfare system is a State financial support for people who might need help due to different life situations. This can include people who are unemployed, sick, disabled, retired, or raising children on their own.
Types of social welfare payment
The social welfare system in Ireland is divided into 3 main types of payments. These are:
- Social insurance payments
- Social assistance payments (also knowns as means-tested payments)
- Universal payments
You can find an explanation for each type below.
With all social welfare payments, you must meet specific circumstances to qualify for the payment. For example, to claim the One-Parent Family Payment, you must be parenting alone and not cohabiting with your spouse or partner.
There is also a range of employment schemes and other supports which support long-term unemployed people to return to work.
Type of payment
Social insurance payments
You can claim a social insurance payment if you:
· Have enough insurance contributions (PRSI conditions)
· Meet the specific conditions
These conditions vary, depending on the payment you apply for.
You can find information on PRSI contribution conditions for each payment in a guide published by the Deaprtment of Social Protection (pdf).
(also known as social assistance payments)
You will get a means-tested payment if you do not have enough PRSI contributions to qualify for the equivalent social insurance-based payments.
A means test is where the Department of Social Protection examines all your income to see if it is below a certain level.
How your means are tested depends on the payment.
You may be allowed some income or savings before your entitlement to a payment is affected. This is known as an income disregard.
You can get a universal payment regardless of your income or social insurance record.
To qualify, you must meet specific personal circumstances.
What are the rules governing payments?
The rules governing social welfare payments are set out in legislation and Operational Guidelines.
Most of the detailed Operational Guidelines governing social welfare payments are available on gov.ie.
Who decides if I can receive a payment?
For most social insurance and social assistance payments, Deciding Officers decide if you are entitled to the payment. Deciding Officers are social welfare officials appointed under the social welfare legislation.
Other payments such as those under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme and certain administrative schemes are made by other officials within the Department of Social Protection.
Some payments are not based in legislation but are based on government decisions and administrative guidelines. For example:
Can I appeal a decision to not award me a payment?
If you are not happy with a decision, you can appeal decisions for payments that are based in legislation.
If a claim is fraudulent
If a person makes a false or misleading statement to get a social welfare payment for themselves or for any other person, they may face large fines or prison for up to 3 years.
The Department of Social Protection has a Compliance and Fraud Strategy that aims to reduce social welfare fraud.
What are the payment rates?
Rates of payment and dependants
There are 2 kinds of social welfare payments.
- Payments for the claimant (you), known as the personal rate of payment
- Payments for any adult and child dependants
You can read the details in the SW 19 Rates of Payment Booklet that the Department updates each year.
An adult dependant of a claimant is called a qualified adult.
A payment for a qualified adult may be paid for a person who is wholly or mainly maintained by the claimant and is either:
- A spouse, civil partner or cohabitant
- A person over 16 years of age who is caring for a child dependant of the claimant
A child dependant is referred to as a qualified child.
A qualified child must:
- Live in the State (be resident)
- Not be detained in a reformatory or industrial school
- Satisfy the age conditions
Children under 18 are regarded as qualified children. Payments for child dependants are made for children over 18 in some circumstances.
How to apply for a social welfare payment
You’ll need to submit an application form to apply for a social welfare payment.
You can apply for some social welfare payments online. You need a verified MyGovID account to apply for some payments.
You can also:
- Contact your Intreo Centre or Social Welfare Branch Office for an application form
- Request application forms online
- Find a list of social welfare forms on gov.ie
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